NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Dirty: 2021 Gobbler at Cochran

The Headline(s)

Brandon Overton gobbles up yet another $20,000 with a Gobbler win at Cochran, while the best of Hendrick Motorsports find mixed results out west.

Our Feature Spotlights

2021 Gobbler 100
Where: Cochran Motor Speedway – Cochran, Ga. (streamed on Flo Racing)
Winner’s Purse: $20,000

The nation’s winningest super late model driver blew by polesitter Austin Kirkpatrick on lap 10 and led the final 40 circuits of the annual Gobbler at Cochran Motor Speedway with nary a challenge. For Brandon Overton, the win marked his 13th victory in 2021 worth at least $20,000.

The only car in the field with the pace to keep up with Overton was that of Mark Whitener, who ran second most of the night until breaking inside of five laps to go. Despite being the highest-paying dirt race in the country this weekend, only 14 super late models showed up for the event (more on that later).

2021 Jamie Mattison World Crown (Monster Mini Stock Association)
Where: Cherokee Speedway – Gaffney, S.C. (streamed on Racing America)
Winner’s Purse: $10,097

Greenville, S.C.’s Matt Gilbert weathered five restarts after taking the lead from Harley Holden, but a surefire win went up in literal smoke with seven laps to go as the No. 117 blew an engine and dropped fluids in turn 2. That handed the lead to Kings Mountain, N.C.’s Casey Towell, who after throwing a physical block on Holden coming down the frontstretch drove away to the win, one of the richest on the 2021 calendar for 4-cylinder racecars.

Casey Towell balances speed & tire management to become the 2️⃣0️⃣2️⃣1️⃣ Jamie Mattison World Crown 👑 4-Cylinder Nationals winner for the MMSA Stock 4!

Posted by Cherokee Speedway on Sunday, November 28, 2021

Towell’s victory came in the No. 97 car, the same number driven by longtime Cherokee competitor Jamie Mattison, the race’s namesake, who perished in a house fire this April. Eight yellow flags slowed Sunday’s 60-lap headliner, including a first-lap red flag for a six-car pileup in turn 2.

Update: Towell’s No. 97 car failed post-race inspection, with the win officially now belonging to Inman, S.C.’s Cody Ussery.

BREAKING. 💥💥💥Following issues in post race tech (heads), Cody Ussery was named your 2️⃣0️⃣2️⃣1️⃣ Jamie Mattison World…

Posted by Cherokee Speedway on Monday, November 29, 2021

2021 Turkey Night Grand Prix (USAC National Midgets)
Where: Ventura Raceway – Ventura, Calif. (streamed on Flo Racing)
Winner’s Purse: $10,000

USAC midget veteran Logan Seavey wrote a little bit of history Saturday in winning the Grand Prix feature at Ventura, holding off 2021 USAC National Midgets champion Buddy Kofoid and three-time Grand Prix winner Kyle Larson. In scoring the win, Seavey became the first driver in USAC history to win the season dirt finales in the midget, sprint car and Silver Crown series.

Kofoid, coming off a win in USAC midget competition at Merced Speedway Wednesday night, scored enough points in qualifying to secure the 2021 series title before the feature race began, prevailing over defending champion Chris Windom. 

Success Stories

Justin Grant didn’t get the Grand Prix victory he’s wanted since he was 12 (he finished sixth) but the native Californian ended the 2021 USAC season on a very strong note with a qualifier win at Ventura, a midget win at Merced on Tuesday night and a hard charger award Wednesday at Merced, where he went from 17th to third in the midget feature.

Buddy Kofoid didn’t points race into his USAC National Midgets title over the season-ending West Coast swing, he took the fight to defending champion Windom. Watching Kofoid win at Merced in the heat of the points race, then swap the lead five times in the Grand Prix with former USAC midget champion Seavey on Saturday night was pleasantly aggressive for a series champ.

It was a battle between native Volunteers at 411 Motor Speedway this weekend, with Cory Hedgecock prevailing in a green-flag heavy Leftover super late model feature that scored the driver of the No. 23 a $5,000 paycheck, as well as a win that denied Pierce McCarter an opportunity to bookend the 411 season (McCarter won the Hangover over New Year’s weekend to start the season).

World of Outlaws regular Brock Zearfoss added another unique win to his resume, prevailing in a crash-filled ASCS Southwest Region winged sprint feature at Arizona Speedway that marked the final feature race to ever contest the facility (the track has been shut down and is slated for redevelopment). Last season, Zearfoss won what is widely believed to be the first oval-track race contested on the planet after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic at Park Jefferson Speedway in May 2020.

See also
Bury NASCAR's Heart at Park Jefferson? Successful Return to Racing Could Force Their Hand

What’s more, Zearfoss won said event without a front wing after getting involved in a collision with seven laps to go.

Kyle Larson did add to his season haul by scoring consecutive 360 winged sprint car feature wins at Merced Speedway Tuesday and Wednesday night. Having said that…

Vexed, Villains & Victims

NASCAR’s presence in the USAC midget ranks yielded very little in terms of results. Larson did finish top-five in the Grand Prix at Ventura but was a complete non-factor in both USAC features at Merced Tuesday and Wednesday. 

Chase Elliott successfully made his winged sprint car debut by qualifying for Tuesday and Wednesday features at Merced, but missed Wednesday’s midget feature. Elliott was the first car lapped in the Grand Prix field Saturday at Ventura. Also, Xfinity Series competitor Santino Ferrucci finished last in his heat races both Tuesday and Wednesday at Merced, missing both features in what the driver deemed Chili Bowl practice.

Jeff Dean must be an Auburn fan. After watching the War Eagle faithful bust out the “overrated” chant in the third quarter of Saturday’s Iron Bowl only to lose to Alabama, Dean one-upped that crowd in Sunday’s first Kajun Mini Stocks B-Main at Cherokee, throwing his fist out the air coming to the checkered flag down the frontstretch… only to get passed at the stripe by Clayton, N.C.’s Kevin Pierce. 

Matt Gilbert. See above.

It’s unusual to see the front row of any feature out of the running in the first three laps if they don’t take each other out, but that’s what happened in Tuesday’s sprint car feature at Merced. Outside polesitter Joey Ancona jumped turn 4 on the opening lap of the feature, while polesitter Ryan Timms jumped the cushion in the exact same spot two laps later, spinning again later in the feature.

It’s doubtful that Mark Whitener was ever going to catch Overton for the Gobbler win at Cochran, but losing a runner-up finish to a mechanical failure inside of five laps to go was not befitting of the performance the veteran put on, which saw him at multiple times throughout the race matching Overton’s pace.

Jimmy Pontin and Wayne Siddle both filed late entries for the “wreck of the year” award with nasty wrecks during wingless sprint car competition at Arizona Saturday night.

Fanning the Flames

Cherokee Speedway made no secret during the weekend’s World Crown racing program that they will be taking a second stab at hosting a big-block modified race, albeit one that has a much greater chance of succeeding than the ill-fated Prelude to the Finals last month that drew only five cars. Instead, the track will be hosting a race in February meant to catch the race teams as they return north from Florida Speedweeks, with a reported $25,000-to-win purse.

Two reasons to keep an eye on this one. One, it’s a $25,000-to-win event. And two, with the questions that were left to answer after the Prelude last month, an event with big money and no conflicts with a pending World Racing Group event, the car count will shed some light on what, if anything, happened with Cherokee’s October event.

Let’s get one thing straight… I am a huge fan of Chase Elliott running open-wheel on dirt. Watching an elite driver trained in Southern late models tackle the USAC ranks is a very good thing. Having said that, I do have to wonder, is Elliott’s expanding dirt game being done for love of the game, or as an attempt to keep up with a teammate in Kyle Larson that’s poised to overtake him as top dog both at Hendrick and in the ranks of NASCAR? The sincerest form of flattery is often imitation.

There’s no getting around it, the car count for Saturday’s Gobbler at Cochran was abysmal. 14 late models for $21,000-to-win is shockingly bad, and the grandstands looked it. There’s a number of possible reasons for this; it’s over a holiday weekend and the vast majority of late model racing’s power players are going to be on the road this week heading to St. Louis for the Gateway Dirt Nationals, so it may be just a case of bad timing. But given the rapid proliferation of big-money late model races coming in 2022, promoters are going to have a lot more work ahead of them than sticking a five-figure payday on a flyer.

Let’s say a couple positive things about the Gobbler, because car count aside it was a very professional production. The racing surface was beautiful. The officiating was superb, leaving the race under green and allowing Colton Flinner to get himself off the racing surface as opposed to throwing the yellow the second Flinner’s No. 48 started to slow (and mind you, this was at a point in the race where Overton had run away and hid from the field).

And lastly, a shoutout to the track’s PA announcer for sprinkling his comments with lap times, lap counts and other data points that made it possible for those of us watching without telemetry to actually get a feel for the race as a whole. 

One of the more disappointing notes on the weekend was 411 Motor Speedway’s announcement that their annual New Year’s Hangover race will not be streamed on Flo Racing. Having said that, the track’s Facebook page gave a plug to the Motorsports Nation Youtube channel that filmed the weekend’s Leftover racing program, and they did a very good job. An especially nice touch was to take a camera shot of the scoreboard during breaks in the action, again a courtesy to those of us that don’t have access to telemetry. Here’s hoping these guys are there for the Hangover if a streaming partner can’t be signed.

It’s sad to be talking about the final race at a storied dirt track for the second time in two weeks. It’s sad to see Arizona Speedway go away. But this quiet track picture took the sadness to another level, as the grandstands that sit at the now-defunct Arizona Speedway are the same that once stood at the now-demolished Manzanita Speedway. It shouldn’t be this hard to find a place in Arizona remote enough to build a track that stands for good.

The final quiet track picture this year had to come from the old Manzanita Speedway grandstands. Another track that closed before it should have. Thank you to all the fans that sat here through out the years!

Posted by Arizona Speedway – ET Motopark on Sunday, November 28, 2021

Numbers Game

6:14 – length of Tuesday’s caution-free USAC midget feature at Merced, an all-time record.

31 – super late model victories for Brandon Overton in 2021.

$268 – winner’s share of Sunday’s 50/50 at Cherokee.

Where it Rated (on a scale of one to six cans with one a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic): We’ll give the weekend three State 48 PHX Porters. The Grand Prix at Ventura was the best racing of the weekend, but it didn’t make up for low car counts for the Gobbler, underwhelming shows at Merced and one of the nation’s best tracks in Arizona giving up the ghost.

Up Next: With the USAC season over, the super late models head to the Gateway Nationals in the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis for their de facto season finale. Coverage will be available starting Thursday on Flo Racing. 

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